Writing an academic essay means fashioning a coherent set of ideas into an argument. Because essays are essentially linear—they offer one idea at a time—they must present their ideas in the order that makes most sense to a reader. Successfully structuring an essay means attending to a reader's logic.
The focus of such an essay predicts its structure. It dictates the information readers need to know and the order in which they need to receive it. Thus your essay's structure is necessarily unique to the main claim you're making. Although there are guidelines for constructing certain classic essay types (e.g., comparative analysis), there are no set formula.
Answering Questions: The Parts of an Essay
A typical essay contains many different kinds of information, often located in specialized parts or sections. Even short essays perform several different operations: introducing the argument, analyzing data, raising counterarguments, concluding. Introductions and conclusions have fixed places, but other parts don't. Counterargument, for example, may appear within a paragraph, as a free-standing section, as part of the beginning, or before the ending. Background material (historical context or biographical information, a summary of relevant theory or criticism, the definition of a key term) often appears at the beginning of the essay, between the introduction and the first analytical section, but might also appear near the beginning of the specific section to which it's relevant.
It's helpful to think of the different essay sections as answering a series of questions your reader might ask when encountering your thesis. (Readers should have questions. If they don't, your thesis is most likely simply an observation of fact, not an arguable claim.)
"What?" The first question to anticipate from a reader is "what": What evidence shows that the phenomenon described by your thesis is true? To answer the question you must examine your evidence, thus demonstrating the truth of your claim. This "what" or "demonstration" section comes early in the essay, often directly after the introduction. Since you're essentially reporting what you've observed, this is the part you might have most to say about when you first start writing. But be forewarned: it shouldn't take up much more than a third (often much less) of your finished essay. If it does, the essay will lack balance and may read as mere summary or description.
"How?" A reader will also want to know whether the claims of the thesis are true in all cases. The corresponding question is "how": How does the thesis stand up to the challenge of a counterargument? How does the introduction of new material—a new way of looking at the evidence, another set of sources—affect the claims you're making? Typically, an essay will include at least one "how" section. (Call it "complication" since you're responding to a reader's complicating questions.) This section usually comes after the "what," but keep in mind that an essay may complicate its argument several times depending on its length, and that counterargument alone may appear just about anywhere in an essay.
"Why?" Your reader will also want to know what's at stake in your claim: Why does your interpretation of a phenomenon matter to anyone beside you? This question addresses the larger implications of your thesis. It allows your readers to understand your essay within a larger context. In answering "why", your essay explains its own significance. Although you might gesture at this question in your introduction, the fullest answer to it properly belongs at your essay's end. If you leave it out, your readers will experience your essay as unfinished—or, worse, as pointless or insular.
Mapping an Essay
Structuring your essay according to a reader's logic means examining your thesis and anticipating what a reader needs to know, and in what sequence, in order to grasp and be convinced by your argument as it unfolds. The easiest way to do this is to map the essay's ideas via a written narrative. Such an account will give you a preliminary record of your ideas, and will allow you to remind yourself at every turn of the reader's needs in understanding your idea.
Essay maps ask you to predict where your reader will expect background information, counterargument, close analysis of a primary source, or a turn to secondary source material. Essay maps are not concerned with paragraphs so much as with sections of an essay. They anticipate the major argumentative moves you expect your essay to make. Try making your map like this:
- State your thesis in a sentence or two, then write another sentence saying why it's important to make that claim. Indicate, in other words, what a reader might learn by exploring the claim with you. Here you're anticipating your answer to the "why" question that you'll eventually flesh out in your conclusion.
- Begin your next sentence like this: "To be convinced by my claim, the first thing a reader needs to know is . . ." Then say why that's the first thing a reader needs to know, and name one or two items of evidence you think will make the case. This will start you off on answering the "what" question. (Alternately, you may find that the first thing your reader needs to know is some background information.)
- Begin each of the following sentences like this: "The next thing my reader needs to know is . . ." Once again, say why, and name some evidence. Continue until you've mapped out your essay.
Your map should naturally take you through some preliminary answers to the basic questions of what, how, and why. It is not a contract, though—the order in which the ideas appear is not a rigid one. Essay maps are flexible; they evolve with your ideas.
Signs of Trouble
A common structural flaw in college essays is the "walk-through" (also labeled "summary" or "description"). Walk-through essays follow the structure of their sources rather than establishing their own. Such essays generally have a descriptive thesis rather than an argumentative one. Be wary of paragraph openers that lead off with "time" words ("first," "next," "after," "then") or "listing" words ("also," "another," "in addition"). Although they don't always signal trouble, these paragraph openers often indicate that an essay's thesis and structure need work: they suggest that the essay simply reproduces the chronology of the source text (in the case of time words: first this happens, then that, and afterwards another thing . . . ) or simply lists example after example ("In addition, the use of color indicates another way that the painting differentiates between good and evil").
Copyright 2000, Elizabeth Abrams, for the Writing Center at Harvard University
Planning your essay is an essential stage in producing a good essay. Essay writing is a journey in which you, as a writer, take your reader along a structured path from a) to b). The better your essay plan, the better your final essay is likely to be.
How do I go about planning an essay?
How should I begin?
Are there rules about structuring an essay?
How should I go about the research and writing?
How should I begin?
Before you start on the essay itself, it is essential to look carefully at the initial requirements.
Use of literature 25%,
Ethical Reasoning 15%
Critical Analysis 20%
It’s essential to spend time reflecting on what the essay topic asks you to do and reading the specific assignment guidelines.
Note any key terms.
Do you need to explain any of them in your introduction?
Are there several tasks?
Are you asked to compare or contrast separate things?
What criteria of evaluation will you use?
The first step is to know what is expected of you and then you can begin thinking about the structure and planning the preparation.
Essay Writing Activity
Account for: Give reasons for, explain why something happens.
Analyse: Break up into parts; examine in close detail, identify key points and main features.
Compare: Look for similarities and differences between; possibly; conclude which is preferable.
Contrast:Set two or more opposing arguments in order to identify the differences. If appropriate give reasons why one may be preferable.
Critically Evaluate:Weigh arguments for and against, assessing the strengths and limitations on both sides. Use literature to guide your discussion as to which views are preferable.
Define: Clearly state the meaning(s) of a word or phrase.
Describe: Give the main characteristics or features of something, outline the main events.
Description: See describe
Discuss: investigate or examine by argument; sift and debate; give reasons for and against; consider the implications.
Evaluate: Assess the worth, importance or usefulness of something ie theories or opinions by using evidence. Support the judgment by discussing evidence and reasoning.
Examine: Look closely in detail.
Explain: Make clear why something happens / is the way it is.
Explore: Examine thoroughly; consider from various viewpoints.
Interpret: Make clear and explicit giving examples of evidence.
Justify: Show adequate grounds why a decision or conclusions were made; consider the objections others might make.
Outline: Give the main features or general principles of a subject, omitting minor details and emphasizing structure and interrelations.
Relate: Show similarities and connections between two or more things and to what extent they are alike and affect each other.
State: Present in brief, clear form -like a simple list But written in sentence format.
Summarise: Give a concise account of the main points of a matter, omitting details and examples .
Are there rules about structuring an essay?
If you have thought carefully about the topic and what you are being asked to do, this step shouldn’t take too long. Ask yourself how you intend to set about doing what you have been asked to do and make a note of the order in which you want to proceed. When you have done that, check to make sure that your outline will allow you to cover everything you need to do. Using spider diagrams or mind maps can help structure your thoughts and ideas.
An academic essay is, in essence, similar in structure to essays that you have probably produced in the past. It consists of:
.An introduction, in which you set out your aims or rationale and an interpretation of the essay title.
.A main body in which the argument is developed.
.A conclusion which summarises the main points of the essay and may make some recommendations for practice.
It is a process in which you come to terms with a topic by collecting relevant information, ordering it and drawing a set of carefully considered conclusions.
Essay Planning Activity
You are asked to write a 3,000-word essay. - Draft an outline plan for each section, using the word limit to break down and structure the content.
Example of the break-down of an essay
About 250 words.
What this essay will cover / focus on. How it will meet the criteria.
Approx. 2250 words.
Tell the reader what to expect in the order you present the information.
General advice is about 150 words or 5 sentences per paragraph - A total of some 15 paragraphs.
Set out in logical sequenced order. Link one paragraph to the next. Meet the criteria. Use evidence to support the discussion.
About 500 words.
This should sum up your discussion. Sum up how you have demonstrated you have met the criteria. Draw key themes together. Make recommendations if required. Make it conclude.
Source: HSC StudentNet.
There will always be a You-like hole in my life.
Last edited by Predator; Monday, January 17, 2011 at 02:43 PM.